Alumna Finds Recipe for Success

Jennifer Shook-Culhane, Human Resources Director at The Pampered Chef, was named the college's Featured Alumna for January 2011.

Sugar Grove — Students of all backgrounds come to Waubonsee Community College, many who have not yet found the right opportunities, mentors or educational experiences needed to succeed. Attending Waubonsee gave Jennifer “Jenni” Shook-Culhane the recipe she needed to find success. For her outstanding professional accomplishments as Human Resources Director at The Pampered Chef and her volunteer work and philanthropy, Waubonsee is proud to name her its Featured Alumnus for January 2011.

As Human Resources Director at The Pampered Chef, a Berkshire Hathaway company, Shook-Culhane manages employee relations for the premier direct seller of high quality kitchen tools with more than 60,000 independent sales consultants in five countries. This work includes managing and developing staff, leading training, performance management, policy development and worker’s compensation for more than 750 employees.

Before coming to Waubonsee, Shook-Culhane was not completely happy with her path. After she graduated from Sandwich High School, she attended Hair Professionals School of Cosmetology, working in the hair industry for a year before deciding that she wanted to attend college.

"I always knew that I wanted to do something more," she said. "Waubonsee was the first step into the larger world. It just seemed like the right next step for me. Once I got there, it was a natural fit."

Shook-Culhane comes from a strong background of self-determined individuals. Her paternal grandmother, Caroline Shook, who is 90, served in England during World War II in the Women’s Air Corps (WAC). Her maternal grandmother, Georgia Paulson, owned and operated a restaurant with her husband, Earl, worked at a shoe store and ended her career with 15 years at local manufacturer New Idea. After his naval service during World War II and his time in the restaurant business, her maternal grandfather, Earl Paulson, worked in accounting before finally retiring from Aurora-based Stephens-Adamson. Her mother, Barbara Shook, has enjoyed interacting with the public and working in professional office settings since Shook-Culhane was 13. Both her father, Randolph Shook, Jr. and her grandfather, Randy Sr., served in the military and retired after long careers with Caterpillar. Shook-Culhane’s foundation can be traced to these positive examples of her family — all successful, hard-working individuals, despite no formal higher education. Shook-Culhane’s determination was to achieve a milestone that would be a first and make her family proud — earning a college degree.

Growing up in Sandwich, Shook-Culhane’s parents were a source of support and encouragement, but financing her college education after cosmetology school with two siblings coming right behind her initially proved difficult. That changed when a chance meeting with Dave Heiss led to a try-out for the Chiefs basketball team and a partial athletic scholarship. 

"Sports helped me build friendships and connections at Waubonsee," she said. "Between balancing sports, working, studying and going to class, Waubonsee offered me the whole college experience."

While Shook-Culhane continued to work 25 hours a week, athletics at Waubonsee gave her financial security and camaraderie. Playing both basketball and softball, she made lifelong friends and was a common fixture in the library to ensure time for studying. She was named to the All-Conference Academic Team and the college’s Dean’s List.

Shook-Culhane’s experiences at Waubonsee would provide the foundation for her future career. 

"Waubonsee was different from anything I had ever experienced," she said. "Waubonsee was my first interaction with cultural diversity, and now I specialize in best practices for fostering diversity in the workplace."  

After earning her associate degree in psychology from Waubonsee, Shook-Culhane continued her search for her future profession. She found direction when a temporary agency placement at Rexam Release in West Chicago led to both a full-time job as a Human Resources Assistant and a professional mentor. Taking advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement benefit, she would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree with high honors in management from National-Louis University.

"HR found me," she said.

Professional success at Rexam, combined with her educational gains, enabled Shook-Culhane to advance in her career, with stops at Caterpillar in Aurora and Promac, Inc. in Elgin. While at Caterpillar, she specialized in Recruitment and Training and served on the Valley HR Association Board and was co-chair of the Programs Committee. Because of her family connection to the company, she is especially proud of her time at Caterpillar, but she chose a different path. In her next stop at Promac, she led a Payroll and HRIS implementation and negotiated new benefit platforms for the company. During this time she also supported the United Way campaign and was active with the Elgin Chamber of Commerce.

In 2001, Shook-Culhane began work at The Pampered Chef as Human Resources Manager and advanced to Human Resources Director in 2006. Having spent nearly 10 years at The Pampered Chef, Shook-Culhane has seen the company continue to grow and expand into new international markets. From the worldwide headquarters in Addison, she is now supporting The Pampered Chef’s foreign offices in the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico and Germany.

Shook-Culhane embraces one of the central missions of The Pampered Chef and its founder Doris Christopher — to bring families together through a shared mealtime. Working at the largest direct seller of culinary tools, it is appropriate that Shook-Culhane is an avid cook and credits The Pampered Chef’s products with making cooking much easier. Her favorite products include the Food Chopper, Garlic Press and Rectangular Baker, as well as the Pizza Stone and Pizza Cutter. She learned to bake and cook from her mother and maternal grandmother and enjoys making favorite family recipes.

Shook-Culhane earned both her bachelor’s and associate degrees without incurring debt thanks to the Waubonsee athletic scholarship, the tuition program at Rexam, a surprise final tuition payment from a maternal family member, and her own work efforts. She realizes this is not the case for many students who incur thousands of dollars in student loans, and this has fueled her drive to pay it forward. One of her proudest volunteer efforts includes the time she spends each spring as a judge for the Business Professionals of America’s High School HR speech competition.

"It is important to mentor and encourage the next generation of professionals who will be leading our organization," she said. "I am helping students achieve their goals while giving back to the community and my profession."

She also actively supports the community through charitable giving and volunteer work with the Make a Wish Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Feeding America and the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. 

"My opportunities did not come without hard work or people who mentored and embraced me along the way, including those I met at Waubonsee — my professors, teammates, friends and the Athletic Department. I feel like I need to give back for my opportunities, for my success," she said. "I still want to do more, be an example for others and help people reach their goals. I enjoy giving back and would be most honored if someday someone looks back on their career and refers to me as their mentor. I am trying to make a difference."

In addition to her associate and bachelor’s degrees, Shook-Culhane also holds certification as Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and remains active with a local chapter through the HR Association of Greater Oakbrook. Shook-Culhane, her husband, Tom, and their four pets live in Orland Park.